Poor Things

Book cover of Poor Things which shows a father figure with two children, on a background image of ocean and cogs.

This time of year sees the start of the big annual film awards ceremonies, such as the British Academy Film Awards, more commonly known as the BAFTAs, and of course later on the Oscars.

One of this year’s most hotly tipped and also controversial films is Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos, which is based on the novel of the same name by Scottish author Alasdair Gray. The narrative is controversial to some because one of the threads of the book follows the young main protagonist, Bella’s, sexual awakening. Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, to give it its full title, won both the Whitbread Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1992. The book is a pastiche of a Victorian melodrama, and weaves in elements of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus , Lewis Carroll, Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and Arthur Conan Doyle. However, Gray’s totally unique voice ensures that the book is very much his own creation, much more than a combination of its inspirations. It is surreal, has strong gothic horror elements, is often bizarrely funny, and is also disturbing and uncomfortable in places.

Alasdair Gray was a widely celebrated artist, before Poor Things he wrote his landmark literary masterwork Lanark in 1981. Lanark is a complex, multi-layered, book in four chapters that mixes fantasy, science fiction and reality; looking simultaneously at Scotland’s past and future. It is often regarded as the most influential Scottish novel of the 20th century. Alasdair Gray wrote many other novels and essays before his death in 2019; his books have been compared to writers like Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and George Orwell. On his death, the Guardian said he was “the father figure of the renaissance in Scottish literature and art.” His works are often heavily illustrated, with distinctive graphic designs from Alasdair himself, and the designs from Poor Things (the novel) have clearly influenced the visual design of the Yorgos Lanthimos film. Another unusual aspect of his literary output is that his books often include a mixture of fonts and typefaces, created by Alasdair himself!

Below is a small selection of Alasdair Gray’s novels and short stories, all available at Wellington City Libraries.

Poor things : episodes from the early life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish public health officer / Gray, Alasdair
“Godwin Baxter’s scientific ambition to create the perfect companion is realised when he finds the drowned body of the beautiful Bella, who he brings back to life in a Frankenstein-esque feat. But his dream is thwarted by Dr. Archibald McCandless’s jealous love for his creation . . .But what does Bella think? This story of true love and scientific daring whirls the reader from the private operating-theatres of late-Victorian Glasgow through aristocratic casinos, low-life Alexandria and a Parisian bordello, reaching an interrupted climax in a Scottish church.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Lanark : a life in four books / Gray, Alasdair
“40th anniversary commemorative hardback edition of the modern classic, introduced by William Boyd” (Adapted from Catalogue)




Ten tales tall & true : social realism, sexual comedy, science fiction, and satire / Gray, Alasdair
“An original and brilliantly eccentric collection of stories from the author of Lanark and Poor Things ” (Adapted from Catalogue)



Unlikely stories, mostly / Gray, Alasdair
“The first short story collection from the irreplaceable Alasdair Gray, sublimely decorated throughout” (Adapted from Catalogue)




A history maker / Gray, Alasdair
“”Set in Scotland’s Ettrick Forest of the twenty-third century, A History Maker tells a rollicking tale of border warfare, military and erotic. Superbly muscled Wat Dryhope, son of the Ettrick chief, is unhappy about his clan’s violent and permissive lifestyle. Only when challenged by the fearfully seductive Delilah Puddock and her plot to restore the competitive exploitation of human resources does he learn to embrace the women and traditional values he truly loves.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The ends of our tethers : 13 sorry stories / Gray, Alasdair
“The Ends of Our Tethers is vintage Gray – experimental, mischievous, wide-ranging but also subtly connected. And as always the work is hall-marked with his engaging prose style, dry wit and fecund imagination.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A feast of new Aotearoa New Zealand fiction

Welcome to our first round up of newly acquired fiction titles for 2024.

To start the year off we have  a veritable feast of daring, diverse and adventurous Aotearoa fiction titles, most of which have only just been released. The breadth, range, genres employed and subjects explored, not to mention different styles, in evidence is stunning and shows what a rich literary community we have in Aotearoa.

The novels range from Booker-nominated Anna Smaill’s second novel Bird Life, to a collection of short stories by Edmond Murray about Auckland called Aucklanders, a book in the same vein as James Joyce’s Dubliners.

Other Aotearoa picks include a historical romance called The Girl from London by Olivia Spooner. There is also Joy Holley’s much anticipated debut collection of short stories, Dream Girl, plus a climate change novel called Dear Tui by M . C Ronen. Also, just in from our own fair shores there is Checkerboard Hill by Jade Kake, Landed by Sue McCauley and, to round things off on the Aotearoa front, Everything I Have by Tammy Robinson.

Continue reading “A feast of new Aotearoa New Zealand fiction”

Best of 2023: Our top fiction picks!

A beach scene. 2023 is written above 2024 in the ocean, and waves are coming into shore to wash away the old year 2023
Waving goodbye to 2023 (literally and literarily)

As we say goodbye to 2023 and hello to 2024, it is now tradition for us to take stock of the literary year and take note of some of the novels we regarded as highlights.

As always, we aim to cover as wide a mix as possible — from fabulous new Aotearoa New Zealand books to big international bestsellers and major prize-nominated books, not to mention the best of this year’s crime and thriller titles and some standout science fiction and fantasy books. We have selected books that got lots of attention as well as others we felt fell undeservedly under the radar — and we’ve also thrown in a few left-field curveballs of books we just absolutely loved and felt we could not ignore. As is always the case with these lists, some of the selections we make are by their nature subjective and we apologise in advance if we missed any of your favourites out. All in all it’s been a fascinating and exciting year for readers — roll on 2024!

So here we go — Wellington City Libraries’ very subjective list of the top 100 novels of 2023!

2023 Fiction Highlights — Browse the full list
Browse the full list with all our picks, or browse just the topic you enjoy!

2023 Ngaio Marsh Award Winners

Huge congratulations to the recently announced winners of the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards!

The judges had a formidable task as this years  longlist was so strong. However in the end they came to a decision and…

The wonderful Charity Norman picked up the Best Novel accolade for Remember Me; you can see our exclusive interview with Charity Norman Below.

Her winning novel Remember Me is a powerful, suspenseful, multi-layered, page-turning, contemporary thriller set in a close-knit New Zealand community. The plot revolves around the disappearance of a young woman twenty-five years previously.

The Best First Novel went to excellent Better the Blood by Michael Bennett and the non-fiction award was won by Steve Braunias for acclaimed Missing Persons.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards originated in 2010 for excellence in New Zealand crime, mystery and thriller writing. In 2016 the award for Best First Novel was added and in 2017 another category was also added for the Best Non-Fiction.

To accompany the awards, we recently had the great pleasure of seeing Charity Norman in full flow hosting an evening panel of criminally good conversation at our event Karori Mystery in the Library, a recording of which you can watch below.


Overdrive coverRemember Me, Charity Norman (ebook)
A heartfelt, page-turning suspense novel from the bestselling author of The Secrets of Strangers – ideal reading-group fiction, perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty.

Also available as a Physical copy. 


Better the blood / Bennett, Michael
“Hana Westerman is a tenacious Māori detective juggling single motherhood and the pressures of her career in Auckland’s Central Investigation Branch. When she’s led to a crime scene by a mysterious video, she discovers a man hanging in a secret room. Hana and her team work to track down the killer, searching for New Zealand’s first serial killer.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.


Missing persons / Braunias, Steve
“Twelve extraordinary tales of disappearance: a collection of true crime writing by New Zealand’s award-winning master of non-fiction. Former journalist Murray Mason, found dead in the Auckland Domain; the mysterious death of Socksay Chansy, found dead in a graveyard by the sea; the tragic disappearance of backpacker Grace Millane, victim of public enemy #1; the enduring mystery of the Lundy family murders… These are stories about how some New Zealanders go missing – the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.” (Adapted from  Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

The 2023 Booker shortlist

The 2023 Booker shortlist has been announced, with the longlist now whittled down to just six books.
It is an incredibly varied and diverse selection of works featuring books by six authors, none of whom have ever been previously shortlisted for the Booker, and includes two debut novels.

The range, depth and diversity of the titles shows how healthy the worldwide literary fiction scene is.  Selected novels range widely in genre, with writers also coming from very different social and cultural backgrounds. These works engage in very different ways with many of the most pressing issues of our times; such as erosion of personal freedoms, immigration, climate change, political extremism and the persecution of minorities.

The six shortlisted titles are:

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced in London, on November 26, 2023.

The full Booker 2023 shortlist is available to borrow or reserve from the library and is listed below:

The bee sting / Murray, Paul
“The Barnes family is in trouble. Dickie’s once-lucrative car business is going under – but rather than face the music, he’s spending his days in the woods, building an apocalypse-proof bunker with a renegade handyman. His wife, Imelda, is selling off her jewellery on eBay and half-heartedly dodging the attentions of fast-talking cattle farmer Big Mike, while their teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way to her final exams. And twelve-year-old PJ, in debt to local sociopath ‘Ears’ Moran, is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away from home…” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Western lane / Maroo, Chetna
“After the death of her mother, eleven-year-old Gopi, who has been playing squash since she was a small child, is enlisted in a quietly brutal training regimen by her father, and soon the game becomes her world as she slowly distances herself from her sisters in hopes of becoming the best.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Also available as an eBook.

Prophet song / Lynch, Paul
“A fearless portrait of a society on the brink as a mother faces a terrible choice, from an internationally award-winning author” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Also available as an eBook.


This other Eden : a novel / Harding, Paul
” In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, discover an island where they can make a life together. Over a century later, the Honeys’ descendants and a diverse group of neighbors are desperately poor, isolated, and often hungry, but nevertheless protected from the hostility awaiting them on the mainland. During the tumultuous summer of 1912, Matthew Diamond, a retired, idealistic but prejudiced schoolteacher-turned-missionary, disrupts the community’s fragile balance through his efforts to educate its children. His presence attracts the attention of authorities on the mainland who, under the influence of the eugenics-thinking popular among progressives of the day, decide to forcibly evacuate the island, institutionalize its residents, and develop the island as a vacation destination…” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

If I survive you / Escoffery, Jonathan
“In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya flee to Miami as political violence consumes their native Kingston. But America, as the couple and their two children learn, is far from the promised land. Excluded from society as Black immigrants, the family pushes on through Hurricane Andrew and later the 2008 recession, living in a house so cursed that the pet fish launches itself out of its own tank rather than stay. But even as things fall apart, the family remains motivated, often to its own detriment, by what their younger son, Trelawny, calls “the exquisite, racking compulsion to survive.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Study for obedience / Bernstein, Sarah
“A woman moves from the place of her birth to a remote northern country to be housekeeper to her brother, whose wife has just left him. The youngest child of many siblings–more than she cares to remember –from earliest childhood she has attended to their every desire, smoothed away the slightest discomfort with perfect obedience, with the highest degree of devotion. Soon after she arrives, a series of unfortunate events occurs–collective bovine hysteria; the demise of a ewe and her nearly-born lamb; a local dog’s phantom pregnancy; a potato blight. She notices that the local suspicion about incomers in general seems to be directed particularly in her case…” (Catalogue)

Poker, Poverty and the Power of Storytelling: 2023 Ngaio Marsh Award longlist revealed


A poker-playing sleuth, a poet’s gritty take on life on Aotearoa’s poverty line, a rural mystery entwined with heart-wrenching exploration of dementia, and the long-awaited return of a master of neo-noir are among the diverse tales named today on the longlist for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

 Now in their fourteenth season, the Ngaio Marsh Awards celebrate excellence in New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing. They are named for Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of the Queens of Crime of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, who penned bestselling mysteries that entertained millions of global readers from her home in the Cashmere Hills. “I’d like to think Dame Ngaio would be proud of how our modern Kiwi storytellers are continuing her literary legacy, bringing fresh perspectives and a cool mix of fascinating tales to one of the world’s most popular storytelling forms,” says awards founder Craig Sisterson. “In recent years we seem to be going through our own golden age, with our local writers offering a treasure trove of terrific stories for readers at home and all over the world.”

The longlist for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel includes a mix of past winners and finalists, several first-time entrants and new voices, and the long-awaited return of one of the leading lights of the early 2000s New Zealand literary scene. “In crime and thriller writing it’s natural for authors to make it really tough on their characters,” says Sisterson, “but our entrants made it tough on our judges too. This year’s longlist is a wonderful showcase of Kiwi creativity, with a great range of stories that explore some deep and very important issues in among the page-turning intrigue and thrills.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards have celebrated the best New Zealand crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing since 2010. The longlist for this year’s Best Novel prize is:

The longlist is currently being considered by an international judging panel of crime and thriller writing experts from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Finalists for Best Novel, Best First Novel, and Best Non-Fiction will be announced in August, with the finalists celebrated and the winners announced as part of a special event held in association with WORD Christchurch later in the year.

And in recent months we have been honoured to host several events in conjunction with Ngaio Marsh Awards featuring some of the longlisted authors and you can watch our recordings of these fabulous events below or by visiting our You Tube channel by clicking here.